THE heartbroken family of a Wirral man who drowned in York's River Ouse following a police incident have paid tribute to 'a precious son, brother and uncle'.

Steven O'Neill, 29, was on a night out in York city centre with his brother – a soldier based in York – when tragedy struck.

Mum Sharon Scott said she could not understand why Steven, who was from Noctorum but had lived in Heswall for the last three years, ended up in the river because he couldn't swim.

She added she will be making a formal complaint about the alleged conduct of North Yorkshire Police officers during the incident.

In a statement, North Yorkshire Police said officers were alerted by CCTV operators to 'suspicious activity' in the area of King's Staith at around 1.19am on Saturday.

When police arrived, the man – later identified as Mr O'Neill - ran off and entered the River Ouse a short time later.

A search was carried out involving York Rescue Boat and North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and Mr O'Neill was recovered from the river just after 3am.

Ambulance staff provided medical assistance, but despite their efforts he was sadly pronounced dead at the scene.

The death has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Paying tribute to her son - a building site groundsman who was also involved in charity fundraising for the K Woods foundation supporting people with dementia - Ms Scott told the Globe this afternoon: "We are, as a family, distraught at the loss of our precious son, brother and uncle.

"My boy was the fourth drowning in two weeks in that river at the similar spot and my son was in the city as a first time visit with his brother who is a serving soldier and also a water safety expert in his own right and he himself has found great failings in what should have been done to reduce the risk of my son dying."

She continued "I don't know what 'suspicious behaviour' the police are referring to.

"Steven was a hard-working man with no criminal record.

"His girlfriend is so devastated she feels she cannot breathe."

A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman told the Globe: "There will be a full investigation into the circumstances that led to his death.

"All deaths where there has been prior police involvement in an incident, referred to as 'police contact' are referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct who will conduct an independent investigation.

"There will also be an investigation on behalf of the coroner.

"It would not be appropriate to comment further while these enquiries are ongoing."